Thinking Big

For years, the Large Animal Protection Society’s uncommonly good deeds have gone mostly unrecognized. That’s beginning to change.

The Large Animal Protection Society’s Douglass Newbold and her miniature horse, Lola.Before-and-after pictures aren’t just for home remodeling jobs. The Large Animal Protection Society has photo albums full of them.

Take Timmy, a young colt. When he was surrendered to LAPS’ humane officers, he scored a 1.5 out of 9 on the Henneke body-condition scale. The thoroughbred was a walking skeleton. His coat suffered from rain rot. His then-owner, a veterinary technician, insisted he had a metabolic disorder, but she didn’t balk at turning him over to the LAPS in lieu of facing animal cruelty charges.

Since Maureen Siddons adopted Timmy and brought him home to Willistown near Radnor Hunt in the spring of 2006, he’s grown to 17 hands from his once-stunted 13. He’s been finished as a trail horse and has logged miles all over Chester County. He’s training with Melvin Dutton as a jumper, and Siddons would like to foxhunt with him. “He’s a dream horse,” she says of her first rescue. “I call him my old
lady horse.”

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Located on almost 7 private acres in Cochranville, LAPS is an all-volunteer, nonprofit, state-chartered humane agency that has the authority to investigate cruelty complaints for large animals and prosecute offenders in violation of the state’s animal cruelty laws in Berks, Delaware, Lancaster and Chester counties. A major focus is on the latter, with its huge horse population. The abused animals are rehabilitated, then put up for adoption.

“It doesn’t take long,” says Nancy Botella, a LAPS state humane agent and board member. “In six weeks, we can totally turn an animal around.”

LAPS is not an animal-rights group, a rescue or a shelter. It only takes in animals seized as a result of abuse. It serves as its own SPCA for horses, donkeys, cows, pigs, goats, llamas, alpacas and sheep. Since its inception in 1988, the society has responded to 3,500 complaints. Like the SPCA, it depends on donations for survival and people to adopt its animals.

A typical donation is $25 or $100, and they arrive mostly from backyard horse owners (if they’re horse owners at all), not breeders or large equine facilities. Each January, Pat Geiger, the organization’s treasurer and corresponding secretary for 21 years, sends a newsletter to more than 1,000 subscribers. The envelopes usually come back with the funds LAPS needs for the rest of the year.

Financial planning isn’t easy. LAPS never knows what money will arrive or what it will take to survive another year. It could get 12 horses tomorrow. Two goats, Flora and Berry, were recently found in a flooring company parking lot in West Grove. A 25-year-old donkey arrived one day, too. “[Mid-January] is the time of year it gets bad,” says Botella. “It’s cold, and there’s no money, or the people just don’t care. The animals start looking bad.”

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Jen Manderscheid has managed a horse farm in Unionville for 21 years. She’s also the weekend barn manager for LAPS and its second of three state humane agents. “They don’t feed [the animals],” she says. “It’s stupidity.”

Botella further explains the downward spiral. “One day, they wake up late and say, ‘I’ll feed the horse tonight,’” she says. “Or it’s raining. Or they say, ‘I worked too hard today.’ For others, it’s a lack of money or a lack of care. Or they say, ‘The horse has cancer, so that’s why it looks like that.’”

“It’s not cancer, either,” Geiger chimes in. “It’s called starvation—or worms.”

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For a while, LAPS didn’t promote itself, and members and agents were reluctant to identify themselves. But Botella says the organization and its stalwarts have bravely emerged from behind their screens. Seizing abused animals is a dangerous job, but LAPS has gradually morphed into an organization with more of a public identity. That emergence is due, in large part, to board president Douglass Newbold. Well regarded among local animal lovers, she initiated the capital campaign to buy a permanent property and barn, LAPS’ first. At the time, the society was caring for 41 animals, including a herd of 18 goats found running loose in Caln.

At a cocktail party that she and her attorney husband, Artie Newbold, hosted in Willistown, before-and-after photos stunned attendees. The event drew one significant local starter donation, and several large anonymous ones followed. It made it possible to retain LAPS founding member JoAnn Mauger’s house and property when she retired and moved to Colorado. In fact, it was paid for in full in January 2010. A property address in LAPS’ name allows the agency to apply for grants. One for $25,000 has already been secured. Now, Newbold would like to find a way to pay her humane agents. “You take a piece of your energy and talent and ask, ‘Where can I apply it?’” she says. “I’m applying it—and it’s working.”

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Animals, of course, cost money to feed and care for—the same money that abusive owners claim they don’t have, until a seizure. “Then, they’re the first to hire a lawyer so they can defend their reputation,” says Botella.

If the agents can talk an abusive owner into a surrender, it staves off prosecution. If not, court costs typically run $1,500 per horse—$3,000 if there’s an appeal. In one case, the seizure of 10 starving mares and foals, plus a goat, and the subsequent court battle last year cost $14,000. That well-publicized case against Landenberg’s Mark Nedohon was Botella’s first seizure. Still, a judge allowed him to keep other animals, including six horses. For a two-year probation period, LAPS can—and does—visit once a month for checkups.

“It’s not fun,” Botella admits. “We see horrible things that haunt you, that keep you up at night. You think of what the animal has been put through, and you have to keep your temper. It’s horrible working with the [abusive owners], but it’s rewarding to get an animal and to see the difference in how it looks even in a month’s time.”

Some have to be fed five times a day in the beginning. In the short run, the enhanced care saves animals. In the long run, their condition serves as evidence that it was possible to keep them healthy. It also enables LAPS to adopt out.

The Amish are a huge problem. “They use their [horses] as work vehicles,” Botella says. “When the animals are used up, they throw them out to pasture and don’t feed them. They don’t have horses because they like horses—like we do.”

All calls and tips come in anonymously and are treated confidentially. If the agents sense that the owner encounter will be dicey, they have the state police tag along. “We always find out as much as we can before we go,” says Botella.

LAPS agents may start by requiring a veterinary examination, an important step. The law stipulates the need to establish a wanton disregard for the animal’s care. So LAPS first needs to prove that help was offered, the animal was diagnosed, and the owner was given a chance to rehabilitate the animal. “There’s definitely a process,” Botella says. “We do all that we can to help the situation. We don’t want to take the horse. We want the owners to take care of their own horse.”

Timmy, the thoroughbred, is a success story—but they don’t all end that way. Tiny Bubbles was a Welsh pony that originally belonged to Jean Austin du Pont on her infamous Liseter Hall Farm in Newtown Square. When she died, the herd was auctioned off. Tiny Bubbles was among five Liseter Hall ponies purchased by Elizabeth Cardone.

When Tiny Bubbles was seized through a search warrant by LAPS humane agents in the fall of 2007, she had a body score of 1 and a large mass on her right jaw. A foul-smelling discharge ran from her mouth. Grossly underweight, she had melanoma masses near her tail that were infected by maggots. She had wave mouth, and a heavy parasite load kept her from gaining weight.

The mass on Tiny Bubbles’ jaw severely reduced her airway, and she was traumatized whenever she chewed her food. Neglected dental care caused her teeth to dig into her cheek and gums, the cause of the foul discharge.

New Bolton Center vets humanely euthanized her, and cruelty charges were filed against Cardone. She was found guilty of four charges, then cleared of one on appeal. She still owns four other Liseter Hall ponies. Botella keeps the Middletown Township farm on her surveillance list.

“She started as a real beauty in a real beautiful place,” Botella says of Tiny Bubbles. “But then, she went down in life, just like many of our thoroughbreds. They’re kings, and then they’re dumped.”


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